Freelancer Guide to Time-Tracking
Time is of the essence is a frequently used term in business, and this is especially the case for freelance professionals. Freelancing usually involves juggling multiple different client projects and tasks at any one moment, with strict adherence to schedules being a vital factor in meeting deadlines and getting paid on time. It’s for this reason, freelancers should master the skill of time-tracking.
Freelancer time-tracking allows the freelance professional to gain complete control of the time they spend working on billable and non-billable tasks. When you’re able to streamline, delegate, and automate routine processes, you are then in a better position to free up more time for paid work. Perhaps even more importantly, you also give yourself more time to relax and spend with loved ones.
Time-tracking allows you to do all this and more.
What exactly is time-tracking?
Time-tracking is where you track and record of all the hours you spend working. The work can either be billable client work or the non-billable work you do in-between, such as self-marketing, traveling, and admin duties.
In the past, professionals would use a stop watch, paper, and a pen to log hours. Nowadays, there are a large variety of apps, tools, and software to help freelancers accurately record every second of their day, with much more ease.
Successful freelancers are usually those who have really focused on making the most of their time. This requires knowledge of where that time is being spent and on ways to streamline processes.
Time-tracking tools allow the freelancer to record the minutes and hours devoted to particular tasks, and when added together, a project as a whole. All the data is stored and can then be used for self-analysis, project management planning, and for client invoicing purposes.
How can time-tracking benefit freelancers?
Time-tracking provides numerous benefits to freelancers of any kind. The accurate recording of time allows the freelance professional to see exactly where their time is being used, and whether this is effective or not.
Working on multiple different client projects, as well as marketing and general business upkeep, requires intelligent planning and ongoing analysis to ensure every task is completed on time. Without this dedication to accuracy and project management, things begin to unravel and chaos soon occurs. The result is missed deadlines or working all hours of the day in order to stay afloat.
By tracking your time, you’re able to assess how long further tasks and projects will take, which then helps you to slot these tasks into a Kanban board, calendar, or to-do list.
This not only provides you with planning precision but also allows you to accurately estimate project fees when writing a formal estimate, quote, or proposal.
Accurate tracking also helps you to find ways to streamline processes, work faster, and spot the source of distractions. Being busy is not always a sign of being productive. Sometimes it’s all too easy to waste a lot of time working on tasks that could be completed in a fraction of the time, with better tools or working habits. Time data analysis helps you to spot these issues.
There are a number of ways for freelancers to accurately track and record their time.
Standalone apps which sit on a computer are effective and used widely by freelance professionals and other small business owners. All the data is stored on the user’s computer and can then be transferred elsewhere for further analysis.
There are also browser extensions which provide an easy way to track time simply by pressing a button at the beginning and end of a particular task. The data is stored in the browser installation folders. Such time tracking can give you a good idea of how long a task takes but are limited when it comes to more detailed information.
Perhaps the most effective means of tracking time is to use dedicated software which records and stores your time data to a cloud. This data can then be accessed, and added to, from anywhere. The SaaS time tracking tool also provides a wealth of analytical information about how you’re using your time.
How to time-track using Invoice Ninja
With Invoice Ninja you can record every single second of your working day, from either the Invoice Ninja dashboard or via a related desktop application.
You simply input the name of the task, together with an optional description, then press ‘start’ on the timer. Each timed task can also be connected to an existing client and/or project, using dropdown menus. You can time as many tasks as you like and associate each timed task with any number of clients and projects.
All times are recorded, either automatically via the timer or manually, and stored for use when it comes time to invoice the client. With a simple click of a button, you can include in the invoice the time spent on an individual client’s project together with times for each different task within that project.
This is ideal for detailed itemized invoicing documents where payment is based on billing by the hour rather than by the project.
The stored Invoice Ninja time data not only helps when it comes to accurate and seamless invoicing, but also allows you to analyze every moment you’ve spent working for a particular client. This will allow you to see, as noted previously, exactly where you can streamline processes and where you can save time in the future.
What can – and should – be tracked?
Time-tracking a work day is more than just tracking time spent working on the billable hours of a client project. For example, it’s easy to imagine starting the clock as you sit down at your desk and begin working on making your client’s life or business better.
Yet there are many more facets to a freelancer’s day than the actual billable client work. There are the in-between tasks which take place throughout the day and week, which when added up together might take up more of your time than the actual client work itself. When it comes to good time and project management, these tasks also need to be tracked.
So what are these tasks and actions?
There’s self-marketing. This is one of the most important ongoing tasks for any freelancer, especially in the early stages of your career. In the first few months and years, you might be spending nearly an equal amount of time marketing than you do working on client projects. Tracking your marketing time allows you to assess just how effective certain marketing endeavors are in relation to the results achieved.
There’s admin. As a freelancer you’re also a business owner and in charge of every facet of your career. For this reason, you need to maintain, track, and update various components related to the smooth running of a business. These include things like accounting, scheduling, website upkeep, and more. By time-tracking these tasks, you can find ways to streamline, delegate, or potentially automate routine processes.
Then there’s everything that’s not work but in some way impacts on your work day. These can range from the snack and exercise breaks you take throughout the day to things like traveling to client appointments, self-learning to improve your skills, networking with colleagues, housework, and vacation planning. Time-tracking all of these tasks helps you to see whether you’re making the best use of these non-work hours.
Using time-tracking data
After a few weeks of consistent time-tracking, you will have gathered enough data to analyze the results. Tracking software will provide you with tables and charts from which you can spot potential issues relating to how you have used your time.
By analyzing averages, you’ll see how long certain tasks, projects, and interactions take. This data will allow you to better schedule future tasks of a similar nature with more accuracy.
You will also see where there are little black holes in your day or week. These could be related to distractions. Or they may be periods of the day where you feel a little sleepy or drained. When you spot these, you can then modify your schedule to allow for a power-nap, to go a walk, or work on less cerebral tasks.
Time data will also show when your most productive hours are, which is a very powerful bit of knowledge to have. You can then schedule the most challenging or important tasks for these timeframes.
Integrated time-tracking for freelancers
Freelancer time-tracking is a powerful way to streamline your entire freelancing career and life. Whether you’re looking for your first client or you’re a seasoned pro, investing in time-tracking software and related project management tools can really boost the effectiveness of the hours you work.
At Invoice Ninja we have time-tracking tools which can be used in combination with project management Kanban boards and invoicing software, all of which are fully integrated with one another. This means all data you collect is instantly available for invoices and pretty much any other app thanks to Zapier integration automation.